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April 18th, 2022

Is Identity Stronger Than the Sum of its Parts? We Asked the Experts

When Google announced back in 2020 that digital marketers had two years to stop using third-party cookies, most industry observers thought the decision was rushed, and the transition window too short. But when marketers got to the drawing board, many realized that this was an opportunity to not just replace the cookie, but build a whole new marketing ecosystem around the notion of identity—a much more transparent, respectful, compliant, and ultimately more efficient representation of consumers.

Taking advantage of Google’s updated timeline (cookie support in Chrome and ad ID support in Android are now scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2023), marketers are hard at work weeding out cookies and other intrusive IDs from their marketing stacks. This is an important step. No one wants their marketing capabilities to grind to a halt when the time finally comes. But in the rush to replace cookie-based tools with identity-based versions, there’s a real risk for marketers to embrace the wrong kind of identity. Or at least a version of identity that’s ill-suited to their needs.

“It all starts with strategy,” says Steve Silvers, SVP and GM, Marketing Solutions – Identity & Audience, Neustar. “What is your corporate strategy over the next 3 to 5 years? What are your use cases? What types of data do you need to support those use cases? How can you build a stable platform to support that data? And how do you bring together all the little bits of fractional identifiers out there to build a coherent view of identity that you can use to nurture, grow, and activate your data on that platform? In that order.”

At the 2021 Brave New Worlds summit, Forrester VP and Principal Analyst Joanna O’Connell hosted a fascinating panel discussion on the role that identity can play in support of corporate strategy. “Is identity a thing,” she asked, “or is it a concept?” She was joined by three experts in modern identity resolution: Travis Clinger, SVP, Addressability and Ecosystem at LiveRamp; Andy Fisher, Head of Merkury Advanced TV at Merkle; and Steve Silvers from Neustar.

We invite you to check out the full discussion right here. Among the many insights, you’ll learn that:

Identity exists in the eye of the beholder - “It’s one thing to use identity to buy a banner in a programmatic exchange,” said Fisher, “and it’s another thing entirely to use it to send a piece of direct mail, or let you check into a hotel room, or get on a plane.” For Clinger, “Identity is a series of connections that powers use cases. Every brand needs to develop its own view of what’s most important to its consumers. That can’t be outsourced. Ultimately, the brand is responsible for making sure that its agencies and outside partners know how it views identity, and what standards they’re all going to set for interacting with consumers.”

Identity is different for existing and new customers - “So much of advertising is speaking to consumers with whom you don't necessarily have a deep relationship already,” said O’Connell. While brands might manage relations with existing customers using deep first-party data and a rich proprietary view of identity, they might have to work with a “more lightweight view of identity that’s more designed for scale and currency” to reach new customers, she added. Those two visions of identity are very compatible with one another, as long as brands have developed robust data assets that can be used as reference points. In fact, brands should make a point to use their own data assets to identify like-behavior and calibrate new campaigns. As Silvers pointed out, “In marketing, you want to reach not just the people you know, but also people who look like the people you know.”

Identity connects brands and publishers in more ways than one - One of the biggest benefits of identity is that it offers a framework for both brands and publishers to invest in the quality of their respective first-party data, and it creates a more seamless connection between the two. “Just like there's a race on the brand side to get as much first-party data as possible,” said Fisher, “there's a race on the publisher side to do the same.” Sometimes, the connection is so seamless that it’s hard to tell the difference. One brand’s first-party data can be another brand’s target audience, and some are even turning into full-blown publishers, especially in the fast-evolving retail media space. O’Connell, tongue-in-cheek, called them brublishers. You heard it here first.

Identity goes hand in hand with consumer trust - The big walled gardens have been villainized in the past for their handling of customer data privacy and security, and much of the criticism was well justified. But there’s something to be learned from the way they continue to engage their users. “We all log into Facebook and Google multiple times a day,” said Clinger. “We share our identity with them and we get something valuable out of it: better search results, pictures of our friends, a social connection.” Publishers take note: trust is earned over the long haul. Don’t assume that just because someone logged onto your site two months ago, they’ve given you permission to use their identity forever. For Clinger, without a clear understanding of consent, and a proper system to validate that consent again and again, “Advertising on the open internet may not be worth the risks anymore.”

How far along are you in your cookie-to-identity journey? Do you have a clear view of how you might use identity to reshape your marketing ecosystem? Every day, we’re working with brands and publishers like you to introduce them to the future of identity and help them transform how they do business. Please get in touch and we’ll help you reap the same rewards.

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